Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

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Winner of the American Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize, Sherman Alexie’s brilliant first novel tells a powerful tale of Indians, rock ’n’ roll, and redemption
Coyote Springs is the only all-Indian rock band in Washington State—and the entire rest of the world. Thomas Builds-the-Fire takes vocals and bass guitar, Victor Joseph hits lead guitar, and Junior Polatkin rounds off the sound on drums. Backup vocals come from sisters Chess and Checkers Warm Water. The band sings its own brand of the blues, full of poverty, pain, and loss—but also joy and laughter.
It all started one day when legendary bluesman Robert Johnson showed up on the Spokane Indian Reservation with a magical guitar, leaving it on the floor of Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s van after setting off to climb Wellpinit Mountain in search of Big Mom.
In Reservation Blues, National Book Award winner Alexie vaults with ease from comedy to tragedy and back in a tour-de-force outing powered by a collision of cultures: Delta blues and Indian rock.

This ebook features an illustrated biography including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.

About Sherman Alexie

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Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October of 1966. His mother was Spokane Indian and his father was Coeur d'Alene Indian. Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He was born hydrocephalic, which means with water on the brain, and received an operation at the age of 6 months. He was not expected to survive, but did, even though doctors predicted he would live with severe mental retardation. Surprisingly, though he suffered from severe side effects, he exhibited no symptoms of retardation and went on to learn to read by age three, and read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath by age five. Alexie decided to attend high school off the reservation, in Reardan, Washington, where he knew he would get a better education. He was the only Indian at the school, and excelled academically as well as in sports, becoming a star player on the basketball team. After high school, Alexie attended Gonzaga University in Spokane on scholarship in 1985. After two years at Gonzaga, he transferred to Washington State University. Alexie had dreams of being a doctor but discovered he needed a different career path after fainting three times in anatomy class. Taking a poetry workshop at WSU, Alexie found he excelled at writing and, encouraged by poetry teacher Alex Kuo, realized he'd found his new career. After graduating in American Studies from WSU, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992. A year after he left WSU, two of his poetry collections, The Business of Fancydancing and I Would Steal Horses, were published. His first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. For this collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, and was awarded a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. Alexie was then named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists and won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize for his first novel, Reservation Blues, published in 1995. His second novel, Indian Killer, published in 1996, was named one of People's Best of Pages and a New York Times Notable Book. Alexie had become friends with musician Jim Boyd, a Colville Indian, and the two decided to collaborate on the album Reservation Blues, which contains the songs from the book of the same name. In 1996 Boyd and Alexie opened for the Indigo Girls at a concert to benefit the Honor the Earth Campaign. In 1997, Alexie embarked on another collaboration with Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne/Arapaho Indian. They agreed to collaborate on a film project inspired by Alexie's work, This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona, from the short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Smoke Signals debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1998, winning two awards: the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy. In 1999 the film received a Christopher Award, presented to the creators of artistic works "which affirm the highest values of the human spirit." Alexie was also nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. Alexie competed in his first World Heavyweight Poetry Bout competition in June 1998, organized by the World Poetry Bout Association (WPBA) in Taos, New Mexico. He won, and then went on to win the title again over the next three years, becoming the first and only poet to hold the title for four consecutive years. Alexie also made his stand-up comedy debut at the Foolproof Northwest Comedy Festival in Seattle, WA, in April 1999, Also in 1998, Alexie participated with seven others in the PBS Lehrer News Hour, Dialogue on Race with President Clinton. Alexie has also been featured on Politically Incorrect , 60 Minutes II, and NOW with Bill Moyers. In February 2003, Alexie participated in the Museum of Tolerance project, "Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves," an exhibit showcasing the diversity within the personal histories of several noted Americans. He was the guest editor for the Winter 2000-01 issue of Ploughshares, a prestigious literary journal. He was a 1999 O. Henry Award Prize juror, was one of the judges for the 2000 inagural PEN/ Short Story Award, and a juror for both the Poetry Society of America's 2001 Shelley Memorial Award and the Poets and Writers "Writers Exchange 2001" Contest. He currently serves as a mentor in the PEN Emerging Writers program. Alexie was also a member of the 2000 and 2001 Independent Spirit Awards Nominating Committees, and has seved as a creative advisor to the Sundance Institute Writers Fellowship Program and the Independent Feature Films West Screenwriters Lab. In October 2003 he received Washington State University's highest honor for alumni, the Regents' Distinguished Alumnus Award. Alexie's work was selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 2004,and his short story "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" was selected by juror Ann Patchett as her favorite story for the The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005. Alexie has published 16 books including his collection of short stories, Ten Little Indians.
Published October 15, 2013 by Open Road Media. 320 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Political & Social Sciences, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Humor & Entertainment, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
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Kirkus Reviews

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Driving around one day, he happens upon legendary blues singer Robert Johnson, who says he's been drawn to the reservation by recurring dreams of Big Mom, an ancient, mysterious woman who lives in the clouds.

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Publishers Weekly

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This first novel by the author of the story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven revolves around a bluesman's gift of a guitar to a Native American on a reservation. (Oct.)

Sep 02 1996 | Read Full Review of Reservation Blues

Suite 101

Pop-Culture References in Reservation Blues Alexie also uses pop-culture references in Reservation Blues to prove how white, Anglo society is infiltrating Native American culture.

Jul 01 2008 | Read Full Review of Reservation Blues


If it hadn't been for the stories spinning in his head, or the blues in his bones, or that mysterious stranger with the guitar, maybe Thomas Builds-the-Fire wouldn't have gotten the crazy notion of starting an all-Indian rock band.

May 08 1995 | Read Full Review of Reservation Blues

Project MUSE

Among the results of the recent (and ongoing) upsetting of the canonical applecart, perhaps the most worthwhile is the general sense of "permission," for lack of a better word, teachers at both the public school and college levels have acquired to offer contemporary texts to their students.

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Malinda Charter

Malinda Charter 22 Jul 2014

Added the book to want to read list